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Insider Only Ranking the Penguins top-15 Unrestricted Free Agents

nhl_g_brooks-orpik_mb_576 OUTLOOK
The Penguins brass will meet late this week and into next week and make some decisions on which free agents of their own that there will be or won’t be interest in retaining. Today we rank the Penguins unrestricted free agents and tomorrow we’ll look at the group of restricted free agents:
The Penguins currently have approximately $55.1 million committed to 14 players (7 forwards, 5 defensemen, 2 goaltenders). One league executive tells Inside Pittsburgh Sports the latest cap projection among league officials has the cap rising to around $69.5 million, a bit lower than the initial $71 million projection.
RANKING PENGUINS UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
1. Matt Niskanen, Age 27 – Regarded by teams as the top defenseman set to hit the open market, Niskanen is expected to command around $5.5 million – $6 million on the open market with a contract of at least six years, a steep price for a defenseman where there’s lots of mixed opinions inside the Penguins organization on whether he’s a top-4 defenseman or not. Whether to go all in for Niskanen or not, will be among the top decisions to make for Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. Resigning Niskanen would have a domino effect on others, possibly Kris Letang or Paul Martin. If there’s no deal to be made with Pittsburgh, Niskanen eyes a winning, stable franchise and a coach whose plays a similar system. Could he land in Florida if Bylsma gets the job? The Red Wings, Flyers and Rangers are among notable teams in the Eastern Conference with their eye on Niskanen. | 2013-2014 Salary: $2.5 million |

2. Brooks Orpik, Age 33 – Broken down, on the downside of his career? That’s the feeling among the Penguins fan base but that’s not how league executives feel about Orpik. A strong market is expected for Orpik who is seeking a four year deal and feels he has a lot of hockey left in him. Word is Florida and San Jose could be among the most aggressive suitors for Orpik, league sources say. The Penguins losing Orpik could have the biggest impact in the room that is lacking leadership from their star players. Team officials would sure take Orpik for the next three years over Rob Scuderi. | 2013-2014 Salary: $3.75 million |

3. Jussi Jokinen, Age 31 – 21 Goals, 57 points in the regular season and 7 goals in the post-season, Jokinen has put himself in position to see a bump in salary on his next deal after making $3 million per season last year. Scouts, executives polled just prior to the Olympics, felt Jokinen could be in line for a deal in the range of 4 years, $16-$18.5 million with a strong post-season, Olympics, which he had. Jokinen counted just $2.1 million against the Penguins cap last season and he’s a player that the Shero regime at least felt was the type of player you can replace for cheaper than he’s going to cost now. The mystery is how Jim Rutherford thinks of him. Jokinen had great success in Carolina at one time than faded off in a big way, leading to Rutherford placing him on waivers and eventually trading him to Pittsburgh for a late round pick. | 2013-2014 Salary: $3 million |

4. Lee Stempniak, Age 31 – Had 11 points in 21 regular season games with Pittsburgh and 2 goals in the post-season. With a weak free agency group, it’s possible the Penguins show interest in him on a short-term deal in the two year range to play on the third line. |2013-2014 Salary: $2.75 million |

5. Marcel Goc, Age 30 – A priority for Jim Rutherford is upgrading the 4th line and the issue for the Penguins was more of the wingers like Craig Adams than the center. Marcel Goc’s game never took off in Pittsburgh but he’s excellent in the faceoff circle, a strong penalty killer, and has a history of getting you 11-13 goals a season. There will be a market for him whether it’s in Pittsburgh or elsewhere but the Penguins could be hard pressed to pay a 4th liner close to $2 million. |2013-2014 Salary: $1.7 million |

6. Brian Gibbons, Age 26 – What type of value do the Penguins put on Gibbons? One of the fastest skaters in the NHL, Gibbons could have an NHL career as a role player and that’s a feeling among some in the organization as he was a factor in the post-season, especially with his speed on the penalty kill. Gibbons seeks a 1-way contract and I expect the Penguins to be interested in resigning him. |2013-2014 Salary: $550,000 |

7. Joe Vitale, Age 28 – Lots of reasons to resign Vitale. Cheap, good character guy in the room and while he doesn’t produce much offensively, he has a lot of good attributes as a player with excellent speed, faceoff ability. Rutherford specifically pointed out 4th line players with bad plus/minuses being something of a concern. Vitale wasn’t one of them. |2013-2014 Salary: $550,000 |

8. Tanner Glass, Age 30 – Gritty, physical player who had a much improved season, leading the Penguins with 247 hits. Was phased out in the playoffs. Likely to test the open market and be replaced by a younger, slightly cheaper player. | 2013-2014 Salary: $1.1 million |

9. Deryk Engelland, Age 32 – The Penguins haven’t spoken to his agent yet but all indications are Engelland eyes a new opportunity with more playing time. He’s a solid No. 7 defenseman to have due to his ability to fight heavyweights but some teams will covet his toughness and sign him as a third pairing defenseman. It’s time for both sides to move on. Edmonton will be a leading contender. | 2013-2014 Salary: $575,000 |

10. Taylor Pyatt, Age 32 – Has become a limited offensive player but will likely find work late in the summer on a one-year deal for a team looking to add a veteran presence with size. Won’t be back in Pittsburgh. | 2013-2014 Salary: $1.5 million |

11. Zach Sill, Age 26 – Appeared in 20 NHL teams, played a solid defensive game. If the Penguins are looking to build a defensive minded 4th line, Sill could be the answer at center on the cheap, but he gives the team nothing from a puck possession standpoint. Can be signed to a two-way contract. |2013-2014 Salary: NHL $550,000, AHL $110,000 |

12. Harry Zolnierczyk, Age 26 – It was always a mystery why Zolnierczyk wasn’t given much of an opportunity. Good speed and played with an edge that few Penguins do in their bottom-6. Still, he cleared waivers twice this season and a lot of teams clearly don’t see him as a full-time NHL player. |2013-2014 Salary: NHL $550,000, AHL $110,000 |
13. Chris Conner, Age 30 – Penguins coaches this past season felt the Penguins third line was at its best for a short-period when Chris Conner was a fixture in the lineup. With Bylsma and Shero gone, he’s unlikely to be back but Conner was one of the Penguins highest paid players in Wilkes Barre this season, making $250,000, and Jason Botterill is the one who ran that team and handled all contracts, so we’ll see if he’s brought back as a depth guy in the organization. | 2013-2014 Salary: NHL $550,000, AHL $250,000 |

14. Chuck Kobasew, Age 32 – Ray Shero’s best signing last year was Chuck Kobasew! He dominated in the AHL. Won’t be back, likely to struggle to find work again this summer, though, his strong play in minors can’t hurt. | 2013-2014 Salary: $550,000

15. Tomas Vokoun, Age 37 – Turns 38 in July, Penguin officials have expected him to retire after failing to appear in one NHL game this past-season, which is the reason we have him ranked last, though, his agent Allan Walsh came out today and said Vokoun wants to play next season.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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